A Season of Pilgrimage


We can relate to our planet Earth in two ways. Either we can act as tourists and look at the Earth as a source of goods and services for our use, pleasure and enjoyment, or we can act as Earth Pilgrims and treat the planet with reverence and gratitude,” thus writes Satish Kumar, whose life has been permeated by the theme of pilgrimage.

A Provincial wide year of Pilgrimage was planned for 2020 but like much else because of the Covid virus any plans made have had to be deferred or cancelled. The Bishops have now announced that there will be a Season of Pilgrimage beginning on 6th January, the Feast of the Epiphany and will continue until 2022. Bishop Anne Dyer is the lead Bishop and hopes that as many as possible will be encouraged to make some kind of pilgrimage during 2021.

When the ‘Year’ was first mooted plans were made in some Dioceses to walk the Santiago de Compostela, others to Canterbury - ambitious plans which Covid has now prevented, at least for now. However with the prospects of a vaccine and perhaps a greater opportunity to be able to consider making a pilgrimage the Bishops suggested this new ‘Season’ for Dioceses to consider. Inspires Online gives more details about this however Bishop Anne has said – “In the late medieval period pilgrimages in the Christian West were at their height. Whether a person made a pilgrimage to a holy site in their own country or across the continent, planning was required. This same planning is needed today”.

Bishop Andrew is inviting Charges and the Clusters to discuss this and to come up with ideas of how across the Diocese we can be pilgrims. Our whole life is really a pilgrimage, a journey, from birth to death for it is not static and place is important – where we were born and where we shall die. But we think of ‘going on a pilgrimage’ to a sacred place as the Celts did, for example leaving Ireland and landing on Iona, and many who have made their own pilgrimage to Iona will no doubt testify to the sense of the numinous there, that thin veil between God and ourselves. It is also a time for prayer for being in the presence of God, indeed often feeling the presence of God and we may make a pilgrimage for a purpose perhaps at a crisis point in our life, or to pray for someone in particular offering them to God as we go to the sacred place. Many may know that the scallop shell is a symbol of pilgrimage and has long been linked with St James and the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route with the lines on the shell symbolising the many routes people take to reach the tomb of St James.

Important as the journey walking the pilgrim path is, for those who would find this too difficult or just do not have the time the ‘being’ is equally important. Taking time to ponder, to reflect, to admire, to appreciate the natural surroundings. Much has been said of nature – noticing and relating to birds, trees, flowers, water - during this year of lockdown and this is one very special way of ‘practising the presence of God’ – God of all things, God incarnated and resurrected and with us now as the Holy Spirit guides and directs us. This is being contemplative and having that sense of awe and wonder and gratitude that God is with us, however tough things are or have been. It is interesting that anthropologists consider that both the journey and the destination have great significance – providing a sort of threshold where one sees life in a divine perspective.

There are so many ways that each Charge, and each Cluster can engage with this and the suggestion is that Churches either decide to do their own ‘pilgrimage’ whether going on one or in meeting for prayer, studying a spirituality book or something else – or the Churches in each Cluster could perhaps get together to make a plan. Are there holy sites in your area such a holy well that could become a focal point, a place to journey to, so it could be a good idea to look at an Ordnance Survey map to see? Is there already a pilgrim route in your area, or could you create one, as the churches in Orkney have done with the St Magnus Way, even ambitiously with printed guide sheets and a website. Another idea is to perhaps create a labyrinth made from stones collected by pilgrims. There is one near the seashore at St Columba’s Bay on Iona, there is a large one outside the Maggie Centre at Ninewells Hospital, there is the famous one at Chartres. Walking a labyrinth meditatively and slowly and holding God’s presence in our innermost being can be a very ‘spiritual’ and helpful experience. We can use this as a prayer for someone, or something in our own lives. The labyrinth is a circular pathway that weaves too and fro until one eventually arrives at the centre and is based on spirals found in nature and is an ancient spiritual tool in many faith traditions. As we walk out of the labyrinth again slowly and quietly we bring back into the world whatever spiritual help we may have received.

The Season is now going to extend beyond a year so there is time to start planning and praying after Christmas and as the Magi no doubt plotted and planned their journey it is hoped that all the Churches in the Diocese (indeed in the Province) will follow the star and with the ever threat of global warming and climate change perhaps the words of Satish Kumar “we can act as Earth Pilgrims and treat the planet with reverence and gratitude” can be our guide. 

And a last word from Bishop Anne about considering the purpose, the intention, of the pilgrimage - “Pilgrims would have had very different intentions, ranging from a need for penitence through to searching for healing for themselves or a loved one. Our intentions might be similar, and might also include intercession for the world so impacted by the coronavirus. Even a short pilgrimage might help us connect with God through prayer in a new or deeper way”.

Should anyone want to read more a book by Philip Sheldrake, Living Between Worlds, place and journey in Celtic spirituality, might be of interest. It is about Celtic spirituality but he challenges assumptions and inaccuracies about this, as many books have appeared in recent years on this subject, sometimes heavily romanticised. And finally a word from Thomas Merton the 20th C mystic and Trappist Monk – “in one sense we are always travelling, and travelling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived”.

And please let the Brechin Bulletin know what your plans are, we shall be interested to hear.

Denise Herbert (dbh.herbert@btinternet.com)
6th December 2020


1 Kumar, Satish. Earth Pilgrim. Green Books Ltd. 2009 p12

2 See Inspires Online 28.11.2020. www.scotland.anglican.org.

3 Sheldrake, Philip. Living Between Worlds, Darton, Longman and Todd. 1996.

4 Merton, Thomas.  The Seven Storey Mountain, Harcourt Brace. 1948

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